I’ve known the Lord for what will be, 30 years, next April 2024. Something I’ve noticed, especially over the last 15 years or so, is a major division within the body of Christ when it comes to visiting other churches or doing things a little differently than what we ourselves may hold to.
I was born again back in 1994 and even in my early days, I would often travel to other churches to hear the Word preached. It all started when our then-youth pastor, took a position elsewhere, leaving open a door for a new pastor to come in. Well, this took a few months and over that time and even beyond, I started visiting some other Assembly of God churches. Now I wasn’t looking to switch my home church because I loved where I attended. What I was doing though was looking to receive more from God by coming at my faith from different angles. Back then (mid-1990s), Vineyard music was just making a big push and, this was a huge departure from the mainstream Hosanna-style worship of that time. Some of the other churches I would visit were starting to play this type of music and I really enjoyed it. Plus I found out a few things by visiting other churches and it’s those things I want to discuss in this brief article.
First of all, there is more than one way to skin a cat. While that saying may not sit right with some (and I would never skin a cat!), it does aptly describe what I’m going to describe. While we should all find a home church and plug into what they are doing – which includes us serving and not just a hearer every week – there is vast benefit from visiting other places of worship. One of the first things I found when doing this, was the amazing kinship I had with others who were born-again Christians. It was like we instantly had this main line of commonality, regardless of geographic location, church building style, church process, or other things that may differ from church to church. It became something like I was meeting an estranged family member for the time! The Bible tells us we are all part of the same body of Christ but, this becomes so much more apparent and tangible when you visit other churches and attend their services. There is just nothing quite like, running into another brother or sister in Christ and connecting, across generational, racial, or even denominational lines. You can truly see the wonder-working power of the Lord in finding a connection with our other brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Secondly, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Ok, ok, I know I said that already. But here is another point regarding that little idiom: When we visit other places of worship, we quickly come to realize there is more than one way to have church service! When one has ONLY ever attended in been in one church for many years, one can tend to think that is the only way it can be done. Now there is Biblical precedence and instruction on having Spirit-filled, orderly services but there are so many variances that can take place, and often, seeing these and experiencing these can stretch our way of thinking, allowing the Holy Spirit to stretch us into new areas of ministry or on how we reach people. I have personally learned so much over the years from attending different services and not just in the ecclesiastical order of things but also from the different perspectives of different pastors.
This brings me to the third point, being this: we can glean and learn from other shepherds than just the one over the flock we attend. I have found it so healthy over the years to learn and grow this way. The great thing has been what it has added to my personal understanding of the Lord and what I can then bring back and in turn offer at my own church. It makes me more versatile and valuable in what I can offer and do when it comes to volunteering in various areas of ministry.
Lastly…you meet so many great people! Some of my closes friends today, are those I connected with 25+ years ago from other churches. Our faith and bloodline connect us across churches, cities, states, and continents. Those relationships can be so strong because they aren’t just found in our own commonality or sport or hobby but, through the precious blood of Christ and in the salvation we share. Those people can shape our lives and leave indelible marks for a lifetime, into eternity. It always amazes me that even after almost thirty years serving God in the Orlando area, the number of people I run into years later than I met from other churches and early on in my spiritual life. And there are many others I meet that maybe I’d never met before but, who know others I have met and with whom I am friends. This kind of connection is priceless.
The problem comes when pastors or ministers think of the church where they shepherd, as the only kingdom in town. And unfortunately, this happens quite all too often. We should never look at our church as the only gig in town or the only ‘right’ way of doing things. Now, if another church is preaching something apart from truth or teaching heretical things, then of course that is wrong and needs to be avoided at all costs – even called out and exposed possibly depending on the severity of what’s taking place there. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m focusing more on personal kingdom-building. We have way too much of that in the church today and that fosters paranoia, exclusivity, hyper-sensitivity, and narrow-mindedness. None of these qualities glorify the Lord. They are divisive and narcissistic, looking at other churches as ‘competition’ rather than being on the same team. Are we really so focused on building our own little Babylon that we have forgotten the Word of the Lord that addresses us as ‘one body’? Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in Chapter 12 of the first book, addresses this heavily.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.1 Corinthians 12:12
We MUST, MUST, MUST stop this division and selfish focus! Regardless even of small differences in theology or doctrine, we need to if at all possible, join spiritual hands with our brothers and sister in the Lord and stop isolating and ousting those who cross over between different places of worship. If someone in your church wants to visit and attend other services and they are growing, support them. Don’t condemn them. This is demonic in nature and not pleasing to our Lord. It’s Satan’s way of masking off our egos, as somehow being ‘godly’ with such selfish thinking. God is bigger than your pee brain or mine. He is bigger than our limited thinking and understanding! Now if someone refuses to commit to a local church and is just church hopping, then that needs to be addressed because we should each plant and grow somewhere, being poured into and pouring back out, in that local church. But we should not ostracize those who visit other churches and congregate with others from different flocks. We shoudn’t isolate or demean those who don’t just do things the way we do them. Diversity is grand. We are all part of the one body – the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s start acting like it.